New Imperialism vs Old Imperialism

649 words | 3 page(s)

The following essay takes a look at the ideas of old and new imperialism. Under new imperialism, Europe invaded and colonized Africa and Asia (as well as numerous other geographic regions). Thus, it is important to understand why exactly this was possible in the conditions of new imperialism and not old imperialism. The paragraphs below compare and contrast old and new imperialism.

To begin with the very notion of imperialism emerged as a result of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (Goucher et al.). His theory was adapted by Herbert Spencer, emerging as social Darwinism theory. In the basis of this theory lay the pseudoscientific concepts of racial inequality. Racial inferiority was justified via such characteristics as skin color and other physical traits (size, shape, etc.). Different races were classified according to an evolutionary scale and white men were considered inherently superior (Goucher et al.). As a result, Europeans were awarded a status of racial superiority. Pseudoscience and its virulent racial theories had a long-lasting effect on the history of humankind.

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Old imperialism “is typified by the Age of Discovery of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which peaked into the mid-eighteenth century” (Keal 39). It was marked by the accumulation of riches for purposes of national security. This gold-digging process was justified and driven by “mercantilist theories” (39). Trading stations were established by European governments in target countries (India, China, Indonesia, Japan, and others) for the purpose of accumulating wealth. During this period, European nations cooperated with local authorities for trade purposes.

Along with Adam Smith’s ideas came a new form of imperialism. Specifically, Smith thought that “international division of labor” was the best way for acquiring national wealth. The period of new imperialism lasted between 1870 and 1900; during this period Europe expanded in Africa and Asia. Furthermore, John Hobson was one of the most influential figures during the new imperialistic era. His work “Imperialism and the Lower Races” divides the people of the subtropical and tropical regions (whom he considered as the “lower races” with some of them being above others). As a result of this kind of thinking, the new imperialistic era is marked by the slaughter of numerous social groups, such as Australian Bushmen, Red Indians, and others (Keal 39).

The argumentation which guided forward the era of new imperialism was based on Hobson’s postulates. Among them, an idea that the “backward nature of many native peoples” allowed no or very little progress unless they were completely taken over by Europeans (Keal 40). This barbaric approach is what gave way for the destruction of numerous indigenous people groups. The intrusion of European nations was justified by unrealistic and vain theories. In particular, Europeans were convinced that their invasion of other lands is “for the good of the world”, since it allows for the development of natural resources in these regions (40). These justifications further propelled the idea that had these governments been left to themselves, other forces and parties (such as “private adventurers, slavers, piratical traders, treasure hunters”) would cause much havoc within the “political, economic, and moral institutions of the peoples” (40). Thus, all of the intrusions imposed on other social groups by the European civilization were viewed from the perspective of creating a better, more civilized world.

While both old and new imperialism are based on controlling foreign nations and using them for enrichment, there are some key differences between them. During the era of old imperialism, Europe was mostly focused on acquiring and accumulating wealth (via the accumulation of raw resources and valuable metals). Yet, with new imperialism came the conquest and subjugation of other nations (Africa and Asia). This allowed for much greater control over other countries’ economic, technological, and political resources.

  • Goucher, Candice, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton. In the Balance: Themes in Global History. McGraw-Hill, 1998.
  • Keal, Paul. European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Moral Backwardness of International Society. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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